Thursday, October 18, 2012

Chilli Chocolate Cupcakes

Hi, foodies.  The Cupcake Odyssey has flagged a little and I apologise.  I have been busy (new job, toddler), distracted (ice cream machine), and just plain uninspired.  I recently jumped back on the cupcake bandwagon however, and I have a roaring success of a recipe for the more adventurous of my foodie friends.

Chilli and chocolate is a combination that has been done before, certainly – but it’s a good one and one that the men in my family are particularly fond of.  So naturally it was my husband who suggested this as a weekend project when I was suffering from that common middle-class malaise, ennui.

The beauty of this recipe is you can make them as strong or subtle as you like.  I went for a bit of heat – noticeable but not offensive unless you are very sensitive to chilli. I’d recommend starting with about a teaspoon of chilli powder and adding to taste to a maximum of about a tablespoon.

Chilli Cupcakes (makes approx. 24)
125g butter
¾ cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
Chilli powder, to taste
3 eggs
1½ cups flour
½ cup milk

Beat butter, sugar, vanilla and 1 teaspoon of chilli powder until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating lightly after each egg.  Add flour and milk and beat until just smooth.  Taste the batter, and add more chilli powder until the desired level of heat is achieved.  Try not to over-beat the batter as it could split.  Divide into cupcake papers and bake at 180° for 20 minutes (use the knife test to make sure they are cooked).  While your cupcakes are cooking, make the chocolate icing!

Chocolate Ganache
65g good quality dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70%)
65g good quality white chocolate
4 tbsp heavy cream

Add one type of chocolate and two tablespoons of cream to each of two small saucepans over low heat.  Stir continuously until chocolate melts.  If the mixture gets too thick, add extra cream a little at a time.  Once you have reached a good consistency, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely before spreading on the (also cooled) cupcakes (because if everything isn’t cooled completely it will melt and run off the sides!)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mad Men

Hello, foodies.

Has it been a while? A little while, I think.  I hope you've a drink in your hand because tonight's dinner party is slow as the burn on a good scotch and smooth as a mink stole.  The theme for this one is Mad Men, inspired by a recent outing on which my friends and I spent obscene amounts of money on dresses that made us look like Betty (season 1) and Joan (season 5 baby).

The Mad Men dinner is also the first time Husband and I have hosted a full-scale dinner at our place.  The reason we've not done so before is simply that we live in a small suburban apartment and our table only seats 6.  But with a toddler in tow and being sick of the enormous amounts of stuff we have to take with us to cook in friends' kitchens, we decided the time had come to host a party ourselves.

With some pretty major reshuffling of furniture (our coffee table had to go down to the garage!) we managed to get a trestle table into the apartment and comfortably seated 9 people.  Fortunately for Mad Men enthusiasts, AMC post a complete listing of the soundtracks to each season on their blog and most of it is available from iTunes.  We also created a bar with all the ingredients required for our guests to create their own cocktails and a recipe sheet also sourced from AMC.  Each of our guests brought a bottle of spirits so that by the time everyone arrived, we had the ingredients for 8 classic cocktails.

Appetisers: Baked Cambert with Brown Sugar and Walnuts, Spicy Smoked Peanuts
Entree: French Onion Soup with Gruyere Baguette Toasts
Main: Beef Wellington
Sides: Waldorf Salad, Potatoes au Gratin
Dessert: Salted Caramel and Coffee Baked Alaska

So, the Baked Camembert isn't strictly 60s but it is American and also delicious and I've been waiting for an excuse to try it out.  The recipe is easy: put brown sugar and crushed walnuts on top of a good quality wheel of camembert and bake for 10 minutes in a moderate oven. Serve hot with melba toast or bagel crisps. Next time you have people over, try it. It's amazing.

French Onion Soup is a Husband specialty and he makes it every couple of weeks.  It was a star dish at the very first Big Dinner we ever hosted, way back when we lived with The Cowboy in a share house in The Heart Of The Shire (don't ask).  Since then, Husband has practiced his technique and as it is a thoroughly authentic 60s dinner party favourite, it was the only choice for an entree.  The recipe comes from Joanne Harris's The French Kitchen.

I've wanted to make Beef Wellington for a while, ever since I had Salmon Wellington at a restaurant once and loved it.  I am firmly of the belief that Puff Pastry can improve anything - even a fresh, expensive fillet of prime beef.  Husband disagreed with me on this last point however even he could see that it wasn't practical to make steaks for 11 people.

The upside of this dish was, the beef wellington was delicious.  The downside is that it actually took a lot longer to cook than I had anticipated - to the point where we thought the meat thermometer was broken - and we had a reasonably large gap between the entree and main course.  With good company in good cheer this isn't a great problem and I'm not sure whether any of the guests noticed the gap - certainly no-one commented - but it did throw my schedule out a fair bit.  When we did decide to give up and serve the beef it was extremely rare (not the just-under-medium-rare I was going for).  It was, however, delicious and fortunately all the guests were rare beef sort of people.

The star of the evening, however, was the Baked Alaska.  Frozen on the inside and warm on the outside with three different textures, it was surprisingly easy to make and ideal for a busy dinner as most of it is do-ahead.  I was quite worried about the ice cream melting in the oven but as it turned out, the meringue was quite cooked and the centre of the cake still frozen solid. A tip for serving: have a jug of hot water handy for dipping your knife in!

Recipe: Baked Alaska

Salted Caramel Ice Cream (you will need an ice cream maker for this.  If you don't have one, buy some good quality ice cream in a flavour of your choosing and soften it to put inside the cake).  This recipe comes from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones, by Kris Hoogerhyde, Anne Walker and Dabney Gough, which I would highly recommend if you have an ice cream machine.  The whole process should be done over at least three days - make the custard base first and refrigerate overnight, churn the ice cream and make the cake the next day, and freeze at least overnight before serving.

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup white sugar
1.4 cup caster sugar
3/4 cups light milk
1 teaspoon salt
5 free range egg yolks

Melt a couple of tablespoons of white sugar in the pan.  When it starts to brown very slightly, mix in a little more sugar.  Keep doing this until you have melted all the sugar..  Continue stirring until the sugar is a rich, dark brown colour.  Remove from the heat immediately and slowly pour the cream into the pan.  Keep stirring until all the caramel is combined (this could take a while - I think I gave up and removed my last lump of caramel after about 20 minutes).  Stir the milk and salt through and return to the heat.  Bring the mixture to simmer over medium heat.

Whisk the egg yolks and the caster sugar together.  Slowly add about a cup of the hot cream mixture, gently whisking.  Carefully pour the egg-and-cream mixture back into the pan and stir until you have reached a custardy consistency.  Strain the custard into a container over an ice bath.  Once it's cool, refrigerate overnight.

The next day, after you have made your cake, churn the ice cream in your ice cream machine.  Put the freshly churned ice cream immediately into your cake mould and freeze (see below).

Coffee Cake (you will need an espresso machine for this.  If you don't have one, substitute 1/2 cup milk for the coffee-milk mixture to make a standard butter cake.  You can infuse the milk with a different flavouring - I use Japanese Matcha to make a green tea cake, for example - or substitute the vanilla essence for a different flavouring, such as rosewater essence)

125g butter, softened
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1 shot espresso
approx. 3 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a 26-cm round cake tin with baking paper.  Beat the butter, sugar and essence together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating lightly after each addition.  Pour the espresso shot into a half-cup measure and fill the rest with milk.  Add the coffee and flour to the batter and beat until smooth.   Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake 45 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Remove from tin and allow to cool.

Cut the cake horizontally into three slices.  Carefully lift off the top slice and set aside.  Re-line the cake tin and put the bottom slice back into the tin.  Cut the centre slice into strips and use them to line the tin as shown below:

Fill the cake with freshly churned ice cream and replace the top slice.  Put in the freezer until required.

To serve
6 egg whites
3/4 cup caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 210 degrees Celsius.  Using clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a large metal bowl until stiff peaks form.  Add the sugar. beating continuously, and beat until mixture is stiff and glossy.

Take the cake out of the freezer.  Use a spatula to completely cover with meringue and bake 10-15 minutes or until meringue is golden.  Serve immediately.

And no, I didn't wear the Joan dress.  I dressed up as Megan instead. Zou bisou bisou!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ninety Minute Tea Party

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may have formed the opinion that I am something of a perfectionist when it comes to entertaining.  You would be justified in holding that opinion.  So on Saturday when I found myself in the position of having invited several friends around for a tea party at two hours’ notice (it’s a sad story involving puppies in the rain) I panicked a little and then immediately set about designing a menu that could be thrown together in two hours (including the time it took to buy the ingredients) but still look like it had taken two days.

Here’s the menu I ended up with:
Rosewater cupcakes
Mini lemon meringue pies
Chicken and chive sandwiches
Mini spinach and cheese rolls


250g butter (half for the cake and half for the icing)
¾ cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1½ cups flour
½ cup milk
¾ cup icing sugar
½ tsp rosewater essence or 2tsp rosewater

Lemon meringue pies
Pre-made mini pastry cases (I found them with the frozen pastry in the supermarket)
Store-bought lemon butter
2 egg whites
4 tbsp caster sugar

Chicken and chive sandwiches – this is a cheat’s version of a recipe in the Victoria Room High Tea Recipe Book.
One hot barbeque chicken (most big supermarkets have these)
One bunch chives
One tub store-bought aioli
1 loaf sliced bread (whatever variety you prefer)

Mini spinach and cheese rolls
I ‘adapted’ these from some savoury cheese and spinach rolls I found in the frozen food section of the supermarket.  If you can’t find anything similar, I would recommend mini quiches or pastizis.

Method (or perhaps more appropriately, ‘madness’)
Before you do anything else – before you even unpack your shopping – put the oven on 180 degrees. Good. You may unpack.

First, get stuck into your cupcake batter – chop up the butter (setting aside 125g for the icing) and cream with castor sugar and vanilla essence.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Add sifted flour and milk and mix until smooth.

Ok. Is your oven hot? Put the pastry cases in and stick a timer on for 10 minutes (assuming this agrees with the directions on the packet).  Set out the patty pans and fill them with cupcake batter.  If this takes you less than 10 minutes, I’d suggest using the remaining time to tidy up a bit because it’s so much easier to work in a clean kitchen.  As soon as you take the pastry cases out of the oven, stick the cupcakes in and set your timer for 25 minutes.  Set the pastry cases aside to cool.

Now it’s time to make the filling for your chicken sandwiches.  Get out two bowls and a big, clean chopping board.  With clean hands, pick all the meat off the bones.  This is easiest while the chicken is still hot.  Set aside the skin (or eat it, like I did) and stuffing.  The empty bag/container from the chicken is a great place for the discarded bones and gristle and one of the bowls is for the chicken meat.  Once your chicken is stripped, grab a sharp knife and, working in batches, finely chop all the chicken meat, transferring it into the mixing bowl as you do.

At some point during this process, your cupcakes may finish.  Check that they are done using the knife test and take them out to cool.  Do not turn off the oven.

Once you have a big bowl full of chopped chicken, wipe your hands, knife and chopping board and wash the chives.  Finely chop them and add them to the chicken.  Empty the tub of aioli into the bowl and mix it all together.  Set aside and take a moment to clean up.

Now it’s time to make the least labour-intensive dish.  While they are still frozen, cut the cheese and spinach rolls into smaller rolls (I cut mine into four).  Stick them in the oven for as long as it says on the packet (35 minutes in my case).

Turn your attention now to the lemon meringue pies.  The pastry cases should have cooled by now so spoon a little lemon butter into each of them and spread it over the base (you want it about 3mm thick). Separate your egg whites and beat them in a clean, preferably metal bowl until stiff peaks form.  Add the caster sugar slowly while still beating.  Spoon meringue mixture over the lemon butter and brown gently with a blowtorch.

Now it’s time to assemble your sandwiches.  Get out several slices of bread, thickly spread the chicken mixture over them and use a large, sharp serrated knife to cut them however you’d like.   I cut mine in triangular quarters with the crusts off.  The chicken mix recipe makes a huge amount so do as many (or as few) as you’d like.

By now your cupcakes should be cool, so get the remaining butter and beat it until light and fluffy.  Add the icing sugar and rosewater and beat until well incorporated.  Spread over the cupcakes.

Your spinach rolls should be ready to take out of the oven by now.  Arrange everything on a plate and serve!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Earl Grey and Lavender Jelly

Or as I like to call it, Ambrosia.  Doing a late-night supermarket run last week for essentials like milk, bread and Bob the Builder Yoghurt, I discovered that Aeroplane Jelly have a make-your-own-flavour flavoured jelly.  This is possibly the best thing to happen in my foodie world since I discovered Supabarn sell duck fat.  Obviously, I bought two packets. 

Recipe: Earl Grey and Lavender Jelly
3 teaspoons loose-leaf earl grey tea - I prefer Twinings but use your favourite
1/2 teaspoon culinary lavendar - as noted in a previous post, don't consume lavender if pregnant or lactating)
1 packet make-your-own-flavour jelly crystals
350mL just-boiled water
200mL chilled water

Add tea and lavender to just-boiled water and brew for about 10 minutes.  I used a plunger for this but a teapot would also work.  Once brewed, put jelly crystals in a bowl and add 250mL of the strained tea (the reason for making extra is that the leaves and flowers will absorb some of the water).  Stir until all the crystals have dissolved.  Add 200mL chilled water and pour into jelly mould/s.  Refrigerate at least four hours or overnight.

Iceberg ho!

Knowing that I was bereft of my companion and dinner party co-host, my best friend recently approached me with a proposal: a mad Titanic nut, she wanted to recreate a meal from the original menu to coincide with the 100th anniversary of its sinking.  There would be costumes and period music.  How could I refuse? Challenge accepted!

The Plan
Apparently cookbooks detailing Edwardian Cruise Liner food are a dime a dozen so she produced one almost immediately and we set about designing a ten-course menu including two dessert courses and a buffet main.  Since April 14th conveniently fell on a Saturday we decided it was fate and went for it.  Invitations, designed to look like boarding passes, were sent out and a grand plan took shape.

The Menu
Thanks to the power of Google we learned that a typical first class dinner on a White Star liner consisted of ten courses including a soup course, palate cleansers, several mains and more than one dessert course.  Phrase of the day? Challenge Accepted!
In case you can't read it, the menu went:
Hors D'oevres: Pate with Melba Toasts
Soup: Cream of Barley
Entree: Salmon in Mouselline Sauce
Palate cleanser: Punch Romaine
Mains: Chicken in Lyonnaise Sauce, Roast Lamb with Strawberry and Mint Gravy
Sides: Parmentier of Potatoes, Creamed Carrots
Palate Cleanser: Fresh Fruit in Cream Cheese
Dessert: Waldorf Pudding
Petits Fours: Florentines, Macarons and Turkish Delight

The Decorations
Decorating is generally my favourite part of a dinner party - after all, we eat with our eyes first and I like my guests to be salivating from the moment they enter the room.  The first class dining room of the Titanic was decorated with the understated elegance typical of the Edwardian era.  To reflect this we went with a white lace tablecloth, gold-rimmed white china and simple vases of pink roses.  Bestie, however, can't help going a little overboard (pardon the pun and extremely poor taste) and insisted on posting Titanic memorabilia on the walls and adding blue and yellow streamers.  Although opposed to the streamers I will now admit that they worked beautifully.  This was of course accented with authentic Edwardian music (thanks to authentic Edwardian itunes) - because what is dinner without a little music?

Our masterpiece, however, was a recreation of the Palm Court Cafe, complete with wicker furniture (by a stroke of luck, our hostess just happened to have some in the attic) and a thoroughly Edwardian floral centerpiece. Oh, and palms.  This served as our 'drawing room' for petits fours and reading replica newspapers after dinner, as demonstrated by regular dinner attendee The Scotsman.

The Food
 That's what you're here for, isn't it? Well, as there were ten courses you're going to have to make a special request for recipes if you want them.  But the highlights of the dinner were the Poached Salmon in Mouselline Sauce (sort of like a hollandaise, an acidised frothy custard which sounded terribly technical but was actually quite simple to make) and the Punch Romaine, which was so good I've decided I am going to give you the recipe after all.  The prettiest looking dish was the Fresh Fruit in Cream Cheese, which was an excuse for me to buy a set of stainless steel presentation rings.

Recipe - Punch Romaine
Lemon Sorbet
Champagne (this also works with non-alcoholic champers if you have non-alcoholic guests)
3 egg whites
2tbsp caster sugar
1/2 cup water

Separate egg whites and put in a deep, preferably metal, bowl.  Get your electric beaters ready.  Put the water in a small saucepan over medium heat and add the sugar.  Stir to dissolve and keep stirring until the mixture becomes syrupy.  Do not let it brown - if it's not perfectly clear, then you have made toffee.  You want sugar syrup. Take off the heat, and immediately start beating the egg whites.  Beat until stiff peaks form.  Gradually add the hot sugar syrup while still beating egg whites.  Congratulations! You have made Italian Meringue.

Spoon lemon sorbet into champagne saucers (martini glasses would also work well).  Pour champagne slowly on top (it will fizz up).  Once it's settled a bit, spoon meringue over the top and serve immediately.   I cannot tell you enough how amazing this dish was.  Seriously, you have to try it.

The Night
After ten courses and several bottles of wine, we figured out why everyone was so slow to get off the boat - we could barely move.   Many thanks to Bestie for the mad but brilliant idea and the Physicist for providing wicker furniture, palm trees and champagne saucers with no notice. Oh, and a venue.  After dinner we sat around and, as you do when stuffed full of food, planned the next six or seven parties - so rest assured, my avid reader(s?), the drought is over and there are many more ridiculous dinners to come.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The F Word

Dear Foodies

First I must apologise for neglecting you. TImes are hard for dinner party dreamers. My daughter is growing up and I find that toddlers are a lot more work than babies. This has not taken me by surprise but it has left scant time for planning extravagant parties or concocting confusing cupcake confections. On top of this, my partner in crime, The Cowboy, has fled the state and the dinner party we'd planned to present to you in February never eventuated. I do have an event in the works and will return to blog about it in just over a week (promise).  But first, I must interrupt my usual programming for an important public announcement.

I am a feminist. In former years I preferred to call my self an 'egalitarian' because my aim is equality (like that of most feminists). But the older I get, the clearer it is to me that there is only one word for what I believe: I am a feminist.

What has brought this on? Why, amidst an ode to my espresso machine and a defense of nutella, would I emerge from months of silence to announce this fact, already well known to all three of you who actually read this blog?

Several events in recent times have been gradually raising the feminist hackles but two things have happened in the past twenty-four hours which spur me to write. The first came to me by way of my husband, who reads me tidbits from his twitter stream and is my main source of political news. Last night in bed he delivered the following: "The governor of Wisconsin is repealing equal pay legislation."

If this doesn't make your skin crawl, please stop reading, go back to your facebook page and defriend me now.  I'm serious. I actually cried. I understand that there are many, too many, places in the world where the war for equality is still raging and the battle for equal pay hasn't even started yet. But in the US, this is a battle we had won. We have held that ground for decades. But we became complacent. We forgot that this was a right we had to win and we took it for granted. And now it has been taken from us. I cannot express to you the despair I feel thinking about this.

The second event was very different. A dear friend updated her own blog with a feminist rant of her own. She made several excellent comments regarding the inequality of gender expectations in our own relatively egalitarian society. However, her opening paragraph contained the following phrase: "It is a rant about ... well, I wouldn't go so far as to say 'feminism'"

This phrase disturbed me deeply. Is feminism 'far'? Is it radical? Is it so out there to declare the simple truth: women are equal to men? It is not. Every person, male, female or other, who believes that all people are equal regardless of gender, should stand up right now and declare: I am a feminist.

Feminism is not only the domain of shouty, bra-burning, hairy hippies or aggressive, emotionless corporate ceiling-smashers. It is not just the realm of humourless hipsters or manic man-haters. Feminism is for every woman who keeps working after marriage, after children. Who gets to decide whether or not to change her name after marriage. Who holds a credit card in her own name. Feminism is for every man who believes himself the equal of his mother, sisters, friends and partner. Feminism is for every person, at every time. If you are commenting about gender inequality. it's not going 'far' to call it feminism because that's what it is. Don't let it become a dirty word. Don't let Wisconsin happen again.

In response to my friend's question about expectations on women, I thought of a quote from my favourite book:
"Our question," continued Mr Honeyfoot, "is, sir, why is no more magic done in England?"
Mr Norrell's small blue eyes grew harder and brighter and his lips tightened as if he were seeking to suppress a great and secret delight within him. Mr Norrell said, "I cannot help you with your question, sir, for I do not understand it. It is a wrong question, sir. Magic is not ended in England. I myself am quite a tolerable practical magician."

I do not understand your question, because it is a wrong one. I myself am quite a tolerable practical egalitarian.

We must stop asking why expectations are unequal. We must stand up and expect right back. We must make our own demands and show that they are not unreasonable. And we must not be afraid to use the f-word.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Espresso at home

Well, dear readers, it has been a while, and I apologise. Between the Winter of Doom (five bad colds and counting) and the various social events I've attended/catered/organised, there has been no time for you.

However I find myself with a rare five minutes' peace - the baby is napping, the kitchen is clean - and a troubling problem that you, reading this, may be able to help me with.

I recently had a birthday, and requested and was granted an espresso machine by my generous parents. My very generous parents: I requested Sunbeam, I got deLonghi.

Let's all take a moment to admire it because it is very pretty. It conjures up images of lazy sunday mornings, sitting on the couch opposite my husband, each of us luxuriously imbibing a hot, rich, freshly brewed coffee while the baby sits on the floor and does adorable things and shows no interest in our coffee whatsoever. There is laughter and sunshine and pyjama pants, and possibly a lazy cat being cuddly and interacting with the baby.

Is that too much to ask?

The problem with this picture is the coffee. Neither husband nor myself know the first thing about using an espresso machine at home. Well, that's not entirely true. But neither of us know the second thing, and there seem to be at least ten things before you can get to a decent cup of coffee.

At work we have a lovely Miele espresso machine where you put your pods in here and your cup over there and your milk in this jug and then go and get a tim tam and when you get back, there is a perfect latte waiting for you. At home, I get something like coffee flavoured dishwater with milky bubbles. Help! What am I doing wrong?

Part of the problem is that the coffee I make looks like this:

When it should look like this:

Husband very helpfully tells me that I have too much milk (he knows a lot about milk in coffee; he's been drinking long blacks for about fifteen years). I know that's not the problem because I have loads of milk in my coffee at work and that just makes it taste more like milk, not like dishwater. This morning I decide to just let it keep pouring until it stopped naturally. I had a mug completely full of espresso before I hit the off button. I've tried finely grinding the beans, coarsely grinding them, packing them tight, not having much in there at all - does anyone know the answer to this terribly important first world question? How do you make a decent cup of coffee at home?